Like the earliest Warner Brothers and Max Fleischer cartoons, the screwball charm of Devo's early home-baked recordings has held up amazingly well over the decades. And make no mistake, Devo was nothing but a cartoon, from its silly-ass theory of de-evolution to the yellow suits, flowerpot hats, and plastic pompadours that became their visual trademarks. Borrowing liberally from B-movie sci-fi and the electronic diddlings of Kraftwerk, Devo crafted a kind of bent, arty punk in its Akron, Ohio, home studio that was sexually twisted, societally retarded, gloriously goofy, and at its best, damn good fun.
The band was also wildly prolific: Before its Brian Enoproduced debut album (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!) arrived in 1978, Devo had already amassed a staggering amount of material, the earliest of it cut as far back as 1974. A slew of it was collected in the early 1990s on Rykodisc's pair of Hardcore volumes, yet the limited-edition, double-disc Recombo DNA (available only from rhinohandmade.com) is anything but a digital dustpan of floor-sweepings. Rather it makes the case that Devo's finest music was crafted without the assistance of hotshots like Eno or Roy Thomas Baker. The shoestring recording budgets ensured that the guitars were never too polished, the synthesizers never too slick, and the drums endearingly primal.
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Nearly everything here surpasses the studio-spiffed stuff on Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists, while such goofy classics as "Pink Pussycat," "Be Stiff," and "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise" are even screwier and weirder. Too bad Recombo DNA turns dull and stupid as it moves into the tunes of the early 1980s, when the band lost its whacked muse. No amount of lo-fi crud can salvage the songs that would later surface on the worthless Oh No! It's Devo and Shout. The second disc, therefore, is a waste of time, save a demo version of the glorious "Beautiful World," a sly little masterpiece that fuses self-absorption and sarcasm with the band's only real expression of compassion for the world beyond its crummy little recording space.